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How To Plan Your Startup's Product Roadmap?

Amit Ashwini
September 4, 2017

Without a doubt, the process of building a startup from the ground up can be a very exciting process. However, at the same time, this process can be very stressful and difficult. This is especially true if this is your first time creating a startup. One way you can head start your journey towards success is by planning the product roadmap for your startup. A product roadmap refers to a plan that will help you identify and link your short-term and long-term goals for your startup. Here are a few tips that will help you plan and update your startup's product roadmap.

Keep 666 in Mind When it Comes to Your Goals

Some people choose to refer to the product roadmap as the 666 roadmap. This refers to how it is most effective to think about your startup's product roadmap over the span of three timelines: the next six weeks, the next six months, and the next six years. While the six week timeline will represent your time, the six year timeline will represent the vision for your startup.

Most corporations choose to think about their product roadmap in just two timelines rather than three. Six months represents their plan while 20 years represents the vision of the company. While this approach works for established companies, it doesn't work as well for startups because two decades is far too long for the vision of a startup. In fact, six months is far too long for the plan of a startup.

Exclude Dates from the Product Roadmap

A common mistake that many business owners of startups commit is including dates on the product roadmap. While there is good reasoning behind including dates on product roadmaps, it is possible that you will not achieve your long-term and short-term goals on the dates indicated. If this occurs, you will be discouraged every time you look at your product roadmap because you failed to meet your goals. Rather than include dates, you may want to make your product roadmap oriented around themes.

Of course, it is not always possible to not include dates for short-term and long-term goals. In some cases, it is absolutely essential that you accomplish a goal by a certain date. However, if you absolutely must choose a date for a short-term or long-term goal, it is preferable if use quarters instead of specific dates.

Unfortunately, even that is not always possible for startups.

Exclude Your Product Roadmaps from Contracts

Whatever you do, you want to avoid including your product roadmaps in your contracts. For many business owners, it is tempting to include product roadmaps in contracts because all the information is already there and all the other party needs to do is just read it. However, it is important to resist this temptation and always exclude the product roadmap from the contract.

If you do commit this grave mistake, you may not be able to make any changes to the roadmap. You will effectively be tied to the roadmap and everything you included in it. Essentially, you won't be able to change your short-term and long-term goals for your start-up without consulting the other party. Also, if you included dates in the roadmap, you will also be tied up to the timeframe for the goals. Start-ups are usually very dynamic so including product roadmaps in contracts is definitely a no-no.

Use the Product Roadmap to Manage Expectations

As the owner of a start-up, you want to work on managing expectations sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, many corporations are essentially forced to yield to the demands of their stakeholders because they didn't think to manage the expectations of these stakeholders years ago. By setting your boundaries now when it comes to your stakeholders, they will know what to expect from you in the future when your start-up begins to grow and prosper.

One way you can manage the expectations of your stakeholders is by ensuring that they understand the context of your product roadmap. You must be sure that they understand that your product roadmap is dynamic rather than static. Essentially, you need to stress to them that they understand that your product roadmap only applies today and that some items could change in the future. If you feel that your stakeholders will be turned off by the uncertainty, you can at least make an effort to distinguish between the certain and uncertain items to them. It may be better to provide your external road map rather than your internal road map to your stakeholders.

How To Plan Your Startup's Product Roadmap

Create an Internal and External Roadmap

In some cases, it may be beneficial to create two product roadmaps rather than just one. Many salespeople and marketers insist that a product roadmap is shown to customers as well as prospects. However, there are many disadvantages of this tactic if you only have one product roadmap. First, you will be updating the product roadmaps frequently, so you the marketer or salespeople will need the updated versions of the product roadmap. If you fail to provide the marketers with the product roadmaps, it is likely that customers and prospects will receive wrong information. Another issue is that your product roadmap could include information that is not intended for the eyes of the public. Corporate secrets are just one example of such information.

The external roadmap should be intended for the eyes of the customer. This roadmap should only discuss major items that you are unlikely to change any time soon. On the other hand, your internal roadmap should include both major and minor items. The items you include on the internal roadmap don't have to be certain because this roadmap is intended for your eyes only.

Refer to Your Product Roadmap Frequently

A common mistake that many business owners commit is spending so much time and effort making the product roadmap only to never refer to it again. Once you've planned out your product roadmap, you want to refer to it frequently. Not only will the product roadmap help keep you on track when it comes to your short-term and long-term goals, but it will also help you gauge your progress.

Ideally, you should take a look at your product road at least once every quarter, which translates to at least four times a year. Each time you refer to your product roadmap, you should make updates to it. No matter which industry or niche you are in, you can expect changes to alter your long-term, and even your short-term, goals for the future. You also want to ensure that your stakeholders understand that your product roadmap is dynamic rather than static. This will allow you to enjoy some flexibility in terms of their expectations. It will also give you an easy way to account for sudden changes that you undertake when it comes to your business goals for your startup.

Without a doubt, a product roadmap is a great way to increase the chances of success for your startup. However, if you've never made a product roadmap before, you may not know where to start. Fortunately, the tips discussed above should help you plan your startup's product roadmap effectively for future success.

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Amit Ashwini